It’s almost cruel to talk about the incredible food I have eaten this year as we begin another pandemic lockdown. Many of these restaurants are closed or only offering takeout, which pales in comparison to the summertime luxury of being able to eat al fresco.
For that I’m sorry, but not that sorry. There is light at the end of the tunnel, and my it’s my most sincere wish that we’ll soon be able to enjoy the amazing food Sonoma County is known for. This look back at the best dishes I ate this year is also an homage to all the chefs who refused to give up and pivoted over and over to meet the challenges heaped on them at every turn.
Sadly, it’s my greatest fear that some of these restaurants won’t make it through the winter. The lack of any real Congressional action to assist the restaurant industry — a massive stimulus remains mired in committee — is about the only thing that can save them at this point. Customer support is still critical as we enter the darkest season these restaurateurs have known. Soggy takeout containers and cold food aren’t my favorite either, but it’s our current reality.
As we dream of better days, consider this a look at what was 2020 and what will be again.
Top five dishes
Grossman’s Noshery & Bar, every dish: Grossman’s is all that and a bag of matzoh chips. Fresh bagels and schmears, the world’s best egg salad, smoked fish, chicken liver with gribnes, veal palmeni and the dish I order frequently (just for my own satisfaction) — the Sabich platter with fried eggplant, falafel, pickled veggies, tahina, pita and Israeli salad. It’s my soul food. Full menu available for takeout. 308 1/2 Wilson St., Santa Rosa (at the Hotel La Rose), 707-595-7707, grossmanssr.com
Bricoleur Vineyards, Heirloom Tomato Salad and Elote Agnolotti with roasted corn, charred shishito pepper, lime and cotija: There is a brief window in late summer where food becomes magical. Tomatoes and corn are at their peak, late-season berries are sweeter than ever and in the right hands a perfect meal is possible. Chef Shane McAnelly’s summer wine dinners at this fledgling winery are a combination of place, time and talent. I will likely never forget my dinner for one as I sat by the pond and savored every bite. Wine dinners resume in February. 7394 Starr Road, Windsor, 707-875-5700, bricoleurvineyards.com
Single Thread, opening course small bites and wild Kagoshima Kanpachi: Utter delight is the best way to explain the small fairy glen of flora and fauna studded with luxurious edible treats waiting for diners at this three-Michelin star restaurant. In their temporary home at Kistler Vineyards’ Trenton Roadhouse this summer, Kyle and Katina Connaughton matched the breathtaking scenery and moonrise with a series of dishes almost too beautiful to eat. The luxurious outdoor dining fantasy they recently built will remain until March, but currently, they’re takeout-only menu is available online. 131 North St., Healdsburg, 707-723-4646, singlethreadfarms.com
Blue Ridge Kitchen, Croque Madame: This showstopper is the Liberace of sandwiches. Its jeweled capelets of griddled brioche sit in a dainty puddle of golden saffron Bechemel. Up top is a jaunty chapeau of sunny-side-up eggs and sequins of caviar. Peering inside, you’ll find a symphony of fontina, country ham and even lobster. You can’t look away from that kind of fabulous. Open for takeout. 6770 McKinley St., Suite 150, Sebastopol, 707-222-5040, brkitchen.com
Wit and Wisdom, Caponatina Angolotti: Michale Mina’s first Wine Country restaurant is top-to-bottom exceptional, but this simple little pasta dish with tomato-water glaze and Parmesan fonduta blew me away. Open for takeout. 1325 Broadway, Sonoma, 707-931-3405, michaelmina.net/restaurants/wit-wisdom
And the rest
Barndiva, Boeuf Bourguignon with crème-fraîche mashed potatoes and shiso dashi-glazed maitake mushrooms: One of my early takeout meals this year is still one of the best. Open for takeout. 231 Center St., Healdsburg, barndiva.com
Sushi Kosho, Japanese Eggplant with sweet miso glaze and walnuts and sushi made for a happy visit to one of my favorite chefs, despite the lockdown. Open for takeout. 750 McKinley St., Sebastopol, koshosushi.com
PizzaLeah, Old Grey Beard pizza: This sausage pizza gets a sweet-spicy kick from hot honey and orange zest added to homemade red sauce, fontina cheese, Italian sausage and a seriously delightful crust. Leah Scurto has become a huge part of the community since opening in March, with amazingly good pizza. Open for takeout. 9240 Old Redwood Highway, Suite 116, Windsor, 707-620-0551, pizzaleah.com
Stark’s Steakhouse Brazilian BBQ, Tamarind-Glazed Grilled Shrimp: Though this summer churascarria has ended, the memories of the all-you-can-eat fest will linger. You can still order the shrimp and other steakhouse classics for takeout. Stark’s Steakhouse is open for takeout. 521 Adams St., Santa Rosa, 707-546-5100, starkrestaurants.com
Seafood and Eat (Down to Earth Cafe), Crab Louie Salad and Fish and Chips: A pandemic pivot resulted in one of the best seafood spots in the county. The Fish and Chips are unparalleled; with local rock cod fried in a beer batter, they’re flaky, clean and crisp rather than an oily, sodden mess hidden in a puffy pancake jacket. The Crab Louis Salad is a feast for the eyes and belly. Open for takeout. 9238 Old Redwood Highway, Windsor, 707-657-7701, facebook.com/dtewindsor
Simmer Claw Bar, Crayfish Boil with potatoes, corn and all the fixings: This was the last review I did before the COVID-19 shutdown and still one of the finger-licking best. Open for takeout. 595 Rohnert Park Expressway, Rohnert Park, 707-806-2080, facebook.com/SimmerClawBar
Acre Pizza, Detroit-style pizza: Caramelized crust, homemade sauce and loads of cheese make this thick-crust, gramma-style pizza too delicious to ignore. 6760 McKinley St., Suite 150, Sebastopol, 707-827-3455, acrepizza.com
Mateo’s Cocina Latina, Pork Belly: An unplanned lunch with friends turned up this incredible piece of crispy pork in a honey-serrano glaze. Unforgettable. 214 Healdsburg Ave., Healdsburg, 707-433-1520, mateoscocinalatina.com
El Charro Negro food truck, Tacos and agua chiles: Home of the best ocean-to-table tacos, tostadas and ceviche in Sonoma County, hands down. Hours vary, but check out their social media for updates. Mitote Food Park in Roseland, 707-385-6465, charronegrofood.com
Note: We’ll be adding more favorites in the coming days.